going vertical at the fairmont olympic hotel

Thursday, March 28, 2013

One week ago I joined a small group of lucky tasters who convened in the Petit Georgian room to taste through a selection of nicely-aged Washington wines. It was organized and hosted by Master Sommelier Joseph Linder, and showed to great advantage the wines, the room, the service and the talents of the Georgian Room’s kitchen staff.

Mr. Linder had chosen seven wines. The first flight of three wines was a showcase for Ciel du Cheval vineyard designates from the Andrew Will winery. The first, a 2000 Merlot, harked back to a time when the winery made varietal wines from each of several vineyards. It was in magnificent condition – a testament to the vineyard as well as to the ability of Washington Merlots to age and mature far longer and better than the grape’s rather ragged reputation would suggest.

Among the other guests were a pair of Canadian writers, who remarked favorably upon the wine’s “jus de roche” – literally, juice of the rock. That particular characteristic, an underlying minerality, is something I have often noted and identified as very special from Ciel du Cheval.

There were also Bordeaux blends from 2005 (now drying out) and 2008, a supple and complex wine with a spine of iron.

waitsburg cellars – first review

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

As I wrote on Monday’s blog, this was the day that the first five Waitsburg Cellars wines were presented to the media and the trade. Many of the people there asked if I was nervous, and I suppose I was, but if so, the nerves were somewhat subsumed by a rich mix of other emotions. All in all, it was an overwhelming sense of relief that took hold as the afternoon wore on.

Relief that another important milestone had been reached, and the physical results of a year’s efforts were now out of the nest and on their own in the cold cruel world.

But the world turned out to be rather warm and fuzzy, and for that I was most delighted and grateful. I’m not going to ring my own bell too loudly, but I will gratefully pass along this link to the

Pour Fool blog, which carries a very thorough and entertaining account of the wines. Steve Body not only loved what he tasted, he loved the concepts at work here, and completely understood the target as well as the arrows. As for the size of my head, well, I’m happy to note it still fits into the fabulous Carlos Santana hat I purchased just a few weeks ago down in the desert.

For those who have not followed the story, here is a quick overview.

introducing waitsburg cellars

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today is a big day in my life, as in a few hours I will present the first five wines of my Waitsburg Cellars label to the trade.

Waitsburg Cellars came about as the result of a conversation exactly one year ago, with Andrew Browne and Alex Evans, principals at Precept Wines. Their proposal was breathtakingly simple. Would I be interested in designing and creating a wine, using the resources of their vineyards and facilities?

This simple proposal set in motion a very busy year, initiated some sweeping changes in my work life, and brought me to this exciting moment, when the wines make their public debut.

Today we will show four white wines and one red blend. My goal has been to design and create wines that are unique in some way. I did not want to do yet one more version of wines that already are widely-seen in the marketplace.

At the same time, I wanted to showcase some strengths here in Washington state, strengths that had occurred to me but that had been overlooked by the market.

bonny doon – pick(s) of the week

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I’ve met Randall Grahm on several occasions, visited his winery in Santa Cruz, toured him around some biodynamic vineyards in Walla Walla, admired his early evangelism for Riesling, and tasted many vintages of his wines. I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed any of them as much as his current efforts, which seem to mark a new standard (to borrow a phrase from Steve Tyrell) for Grahm, for his winery, and in some respects, for all of the Central Coast.

A few weeks ago Randall e-mailed me with a typically pun-soaked message. “We have been so busy chez Doon of late that we've not sent samples out in essentially a Counoise' age” he wrote, continuing ”but if it 'twere Doon, best that it be Doon soon. There are some incredibly compelling wines in this line-up, and most significantly there are a few – the Réserve wines, in particular – that really represent a significant advance in winemaking stylistics, demonstrating that Bonny Doon Vineyard continues to iterate and innovate at a pretty good clip.

We do not wish to unnecessarily dispatch a thousand UPS trucks, planes and other conveyances, nor leave an untoward carbon footprint. To that end, I'd like to gently propose that you let us know which of these wines really picpoule your interest, that we might send along for your delectation and evaluation.”

A short time later, a mix of wines arrived at my doorstep, and this week I finally had the opportunity to spend time with them. And what a time it was!

breaking news from archery summit

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oregon’s Archery Summit is announcing a new General Manager/Winemaker, Christopher Mazepink, who has previously worked at Lemelson, Shea Wine Cellars, and Benton Lane. He replaces long-term winemaker Anna Matzinger, who has been with the winery since 1999.

One can’t help but wonder at the full story behind such changes, whenever and wherever they occur. What prompts them? In some situations, it is just time for both winemaker and winery to move on. In others there are creative differences. And sometimes, no matter how good the wines and how high the scores, sales are not keeping up, and the owners decide a change is needed.

is 10 the magic number for aging oregon pinot?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Greatness in wine is measured in many ways, but it has long been an unspoken rule that the greatest wines are those that can evolve – and improve – in the cellar. It is one of the great pleasures at this stage of my wine writing career, that the best wines of the Pacific Northwest are now proving themselves as (or more) ageworthy than their California peers.

Over the years I’ve amassed a reasonably substantial wine cellar, especially strong in Oregon and Washington wines. For the past year, since moving them from storage in Seattle to a new, permanent home here in Waitsburg, I’ve eyeballed a solid wall of Oregon Pinots and waited for the opportunity to pop more than one or two at a time.

The chance came along following a casual conversation with a local winemaker who expressed an interest in tasting a variety of Willamette Valley Pinots. I volunteered to pull some bottles from the cellar and host the tasting.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Although the 100-point scoring system has been railed against and ranted about for decades, and its demise often predicted, it is an undeniable truth that both the wholesale and retail trade take full advantage of it when it is an asset in selling wine.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get a dozen or more emails from various wine-sellers promoting wines with good scores. And believe me, as someone who has been a paid wine scorer since 1998, I have absolutely no problem with it.

Here’s where I do have a problem...

thru the looking glass

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One of the less-discussed impacts of the rise of independent online wine criticism is the changes it has brought to the ethics of the business. Back in the day, when there was no internet, the path to wine writing success was through the auspices of a legitimate publisher. You either worked for a magazine, a newspaper, a broadcast outlet, or landed a book contract. Your employer’s credibility became your credibility. Without that, you were nothing.

Things have changed. There are hundreds – make that thousands – of wine blogs with no connection to any brick and mortar publishing enterprise. It is now incumbent upon the individual to establish and maintain his or her credibility. An affiliation with an established journal is a wonderful asset. When someone who is an independent freelancer (as I am) juggles the demands and opportunities provided by working for a mix of publications, as well as doing consulting and online commentary, the old guidelines as to setting up ethical standards are insufficient.

i'm baaaack...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Last November I posted a fond farewell to blogging, noting that it was
“time for me to de-couple from blogging, at least till further notice. It’s clear I don’t have Fermentation’s Wark ethic. Unlike Heimoff, I desperately need time-off.”

I’ve had several months away from the (admittedly self-imposed) pressures of blogging, and quite honestly, I miss it. A blog is like a stray dog that has somehow turned up in your living room, and before you know it, is a member of the family. It’s a responsibility, and like all such commitments, it has its ups and downs.

Just as my rescue dog Cookie has become an essential and virtually inseparable companion to me, I want my blog back. Over and over again these past weeks and months, I’ve read some story, heard some rumor, been privy to some juicy bit of gossip that begged for comment. I have no shortage of opinions and wine-related thoughts. But in spite of some excellent outlets for my commercial wine writing efforts, there most definitely is a shortage of places where unvarnished opinions, and up-to-the-minute comments about fast-moving events can be expressed.